"Dubai, the Gulf's Hong Kong "Wannabe"" Dubai by DesertRat

Dubai Travel Guide: 2,720 reviews and 8,022 photos

Fly, Buy, Dubai!

Dubai has become the unquestioned banking and commercial center not only of the United Arab Emirates, of which federation it is an integral part, but of the entire Middle East; it is also fast becoming THE tourist center of region as well. The local government -- which really means the ruling Al-Maktoum family -- is determined to make Dubai into as important a leisure center as it is a trading center. In my view, they are succeeding.

A Little History

Dubai's origins go back millenia, but it was of little importance until pearling became an important industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even then, it was still only a tiny settlement of a few thousand people nestled in the curve of an estuary of the Gulf, euphemistically called "The Creek."

But real prosperity didn't come to the area until the 1950s when oil was discovered. The 60s were spent buiding infrastructure, which previously was almost totally absent. Prior to the oil, most people lived in crude dwellings made from mangroves and palm fronds. The only people who had substantial housing made from mud brick were the ruling family and the top pearl merchants. By the 60s, the old mangrove structures disappeared completely, however, and by the 70s a building boom had begun.

The most spectacular development has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years, however. The result is that Dubai has become, in many ways, "Hong Kong West."

The Unsung Heroes of Dubai

It's a sad but undeniable fact that Dubai in its present form owes its existence to the armies of expats from the Levant, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh, and the Philippines who have battled heat, humidity, lousy working hours, and crowded, dormitory-like housing to build this glittering showplace of post-industrial consumerism. It certainly wasn't the now spoiled and cosseted Emiratis. They wanted modernity and they bought it. They didn't design it. And they certainly didn't construct it with the sweat of their brows. But they are certainly reaping the benefits of it. To be fair, there are so few true Emiratis that they couldn't have done it all themselves even if they had had the gumption, the drive, and the smarts to attempt the feat.

Indians and Pakistanis especially have been shamelessly exploited. Many of them have gone into debt to raise the cash to pay an employment agency to get them the job in the first place. Then when they arrive, they often find that they're not paid as much as had been promised, that they have to pay at least a portion of their rent, maybe some of their food, and all of their health care. (This is new; the UAE government cut medical benefits for expats drastically not so long ago.) The result is that these poor guys often end up working two or three years just to pay off their debts before they can dream of saving anything. And since labor unions are illegal and strikes are forbidden, they can't do a blasted thing about it. It's worth knowing this when you're greeted in a restaurant or hotel by a smiling Indian waiter or desk clerk.

The reality is that in Dubai just as in the rest of the Gulf the majority of residents are foreigners. Most, as I have already suggested, come from the Subcontinent, but there are people from just about everywhere. Walking around, you'll see mostly Indians or Pakistanis. Indeed, many side streets could well be in Mumbai or Delhi. But you'll find lots of Caucasians as well, though they are as likely to be Russian or Romanian as American or British.

It should be noted, however, that Russians, nationals of the so-called CIS and of the former Eastern Europe mostly seem to be doing relatively menial service jobs, while those from the wealthy West are usually in highly-paid consultatative, managerial, or academic positions. There is definitely a pecking order here with Gulf Arabs on top followed by Westerners, then educated Subcontinentals and ex-socialist Europeans with all the others down at the bottom.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Cosmopolitan atmosphere; cheap & plentiful cabs; great hotels & restaurants; lots to do; amazing shopping
  • Cons:Hotter 'n' a pistol from late March to late November
  • In a nutshell:If you want great shopping, great hotels, great things to do, and fascinating street-life, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere, Dubai's a great choice!
  • Last visit to Dubai: Jan 2003
  • Intro Updated Jan 12, 2003
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Reviews (21)

Comments (19)

  • PartyRambo's Profile Photo
    Apr 16, 2008 at 6:13 AM

    http://www.burj-al-arab.com The B-A-A is considered the only 7-star hotel on the planet. Rooms start at 1600 ft for 1-BR, up to 7500 ft. On a man-made private island, I understand you can't go in without a reservation. Exclusivity guaranteed?

  • Aug 8, 2007 at 1:35 PM

    I think people should be allowed to dress in their native clothing regardless of where they travel. Dubai needs to embrace all cultures just like the U.S. Don't hate...Appreciate!!!

  • uglyscot's Profile Photo
    Oct 25, 2005 at 1:28 AM

    Excellent tips and understanding of this amazing country. it has certainly changed in the past 5 years.

  • Escadora7's Profile Photo
    Sep 5, 2005 at 11:01 PM

    Brilliant Dubai-page intro picture. Have seen many pics from the creek, but this one brings out the buildings in some special angle. Best wishes, Ash & Eve

  • Aug 16, 2005 at 7:58 AM

    I have a question about Dubai termial 2 Airport, how far is it from Term 1. How do I get there from Term 1 to catch a flight to Kurdistan and will I have to go through passports to do so? your response will be appreciated

  • Ali&Steve's Profile Photo
    Sep 7, 2004 at 3:44 AM

    I share your sentiments to an extent; however, is it "exploitation" by Emiratis. Nobody forces the people to come and work here. The exploitation is by the agents who are from the subcontinent themselves. I could go on, and probably will, somewhere else.

  • fool_moon's Profile Photo
    Aug 31, 2004 at 9:53 AM

    Real wonderful insight pages which for sure will be very helpful at my visit.

  • ecoquester's Profile Photo
    Jul 22, 2004 at 9:11 PM

    Fantastic pages, thankyou so much for your insite.... We have just been informed that a relocation to Dubai is probable.... Your pages have delivered some comfort to us.

  • PeteBrown444's Profile Photo
    Jan 26, 2004 at 8:03 PM

    Rat... i think i am right in saying that the fort is made out of coral... they had no stone. And once artillery came along....you know? rgds pb

  • zainfeb13's Profile Photo
    Dec 27, 2003 at 8:29 AM

    Nice page on Dubai!! I think UAE government or Sheikhs should read the text on Indians and Pakistani people they exploited.

DesertRat

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